HUDSON — The birdies and eagles at a closed golf course in Hudson have given way to vermin, snakes, mosquitoes and coyotes.
That is the unflattering picture John Cybart painted for Pasco County commissioners four months ago when he asked the county to help protect his neighborhood’s property values. Cybart, president of the homeowners association at the Estates of Beacon Woods, aimed his irritation at the nearby Links Golf Club that shut down in June 2019.
"We spend a lot of time and money maintaining our homes, which increases the value, which in turn, we pay more taxes when the value rises,'' Cybart told commissioners. "Now we have a golf course that looks like it’s dead. It’s a detriment to our neighborhood.''
Commissioners responded Tuesday, introducing an amended ordinance modeled after a similar measure in Seminole County that sets maintenance standards for previously developed properties of at least one acre. The target is land "that has been allowed to go fallow, such as golf courses,'' County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder told commissioners in a Feb. 10 memo.
In an email to the Tampa Bay Times, owner Matt Lowman responded to the criticisms and the proposed county ordinance by noting that neighbors ignored his past pitches to invest in the course through mandatory memberships.
"I don’t see any other way for the course to be reopened without the financial backing of the community to help with capital expenditures. Additionally, the longer the course remains closed, the more difficult and expensive it is to accomplish this,'' Lowman said in a Nov. 1 email to homeowners’ representatives.
He said he needed a response by Dec. 31 "to keep this issue open.''
That didn’t happen, and the condition of the course would appear to make that an even harder sell now.
"Within a couple of weeks, the greens were gone to nothing. It’s going to be a lot of money to bring it back,'' said Commissioner Jack Mariano, an avid golfer, who requested the amended county ordinance.
The land now has rows of pine tree seedlings amid the dirt, weeds and vegetation on what used to be a 6,256-yard, par 72 course.
"I gave them the opportunity to keep the golf course running, and they chose not to,'' Lowman said about the lack of neighborhood response.
He said his consultant suggested planting pine trees as the owners of other defunct courses have done. The planting "also benefits the adjoining homeowners by providing green space,'' Lowman said.
The Links opened 30 years ago amid a late-1980s building boom fueled in the Hudson vicinity by the extension of Hudson Avenue to Hicks Road. At the time, plans called for 3,000 homes, including 1,700 to be known as the Links. Currently, there are 1,200 homes in the course’s five neighborhoods: the Estates, Beacon Point, Barrington Woods, Millwood Village and Fairway Oaks.
Lowman and his wife, Beverly, purchased the course under the company name of Lowman Links in 2001 for $1.9 million. Seven years later, they completed a $220,000 renovation that redid 10 tee boxes, added a 1,600-square-foot practice putting green and remodeled the driving range. At the time, the manager said the course’s busy winter season meant more than 300 golfers a day. Separately, Lowman acquired the nearby Beacon Woods Golf Club in 2009.
Five years later, however, Lowman asked surrounding homeowners of the Links for help, saying the club’s income covered operations but left little or no return on investment and provided no dollars for capital improvements. He proposed $16.66 a month for properties adjacent to the course and half that amount for properties not on the course. Only board members for the Fairway Oaks residents were receptive.
Lowman shuttered the course in June. It became the fourth west Pasco golf course to close since the mid-2000s, following Gulf Harbors, Magnolia Valley and Timber Oaks. Separately, the Quail Hollow Golf and Country Club in Wesley Chapel and the former Hidden Creek golf course outside Zephyrhills are being converted into residential housing developments.
Commissioners Ronald Oakley and Kathryn Starkey expressed reservations about the proposal because of possible implications for owners of agricultural land, and questions about putting financial sanctions on a business that no longer is operating.
"How do you force them to keep mowing and keep spending money when there’s no money,'' asked Oakley.
"I’m just a little uncomfortable with this,'' said Starkey, who voted against introducing the ordinance.
The proposed ordinance is scheduled for a pubic hearing and final vote at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, at the West Pasco Government Center in New Port Richey.